Technology may do what history couldn’t.
The barrier of miles and mountains that separates North Idahoans from the state’s capitol has stood fast for generations. But the computer age will soon bring northern residents within a few clicks of their state Legislature.
Starting in the upcoming legislative session, anyone, anywhere in the state, will be able to get copies of bills, follow their progress, track votes, see committee agendas and more just by clicking on a computer. Legislative leaders announced Monday that Idaho will make all that information and more available via the World Wide Web.
Senate President Pro-tem Jerry Twiggs said the new system should give Idaho citizens “more ability for them to become involved without having to come to Boise.”
“They can print bills, all those types of things,” Twiggs said. “Before, they would have had to write over, call over, have us send the information.”
The legislative information will be accessible through the State of Idaho Home Page. That site on the World Wide Web also provides access to lots of other Idaho information, from the governor’s weekly schedule to state agency phone lists to economic forecasts.
The Legislature’s site includes general information about how the Legislature works; lawmakers’ names, phone numbers and committee assignments; current legislation, with its history, votes and status; and veto messages. Users can search by keyword for legislation on a particular topic.
Within a month or so, the state plans to add the full Idaho Code. That multi-volume collection of all of Idaho’s current laws now is available to most folks only if they visit a law library.
Individual legislators will not be accessible via electronic mail as part of this system, at least initially, because the Legislature lacks computers for lawmakers, said Carl Bianchi, state legislative services director. But some bring their own laptop computers, and have e-mail addresses, he said. The state has not yet determined whether it will try to set up a system for passing along e-mail messages to legislators.
All anyone will need to tap into the system is a computer with a modem and access to the Internet, which is provided by an Internet service provider or an on-line service like Prodigy, Compuserve or America Online.
State officials also hope to eventually have schools and libraries throughout the state with access to the Internet. That way, a citizen who lacked a computer could just visit his or her local library to check on legislative or other government information. That’s not an option yet, however.
Bianchi said the state was able to develop the system at a minimal cost. The total cost of downloading all the legislative information during the upcoming session and placing it on the Web is estimated at just $4,000, he said.
Idaho is among the first states to offer such a system, Bianchi said. Only Washington and California do so now in the West, along with a handful of eastern states.
With the geographic isolation so many Idahoans have from their capitol, the system should be particularly useful here, officials said.
Said Bianchi, “It’s one way to keep track of what the Legislature’s doing, and you can keep track anywhere in the state of Idaho.”
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